Q & A with Swedes Athletic Director

LINDSBORG — Dane Pavlovich was a student-athlete at Kansas Wesleyan from 1994-97 before transferring to Kansas State. He played basketball and was junior varsity coach for the Coyotes.

Pavlovich, though, did what some might say is the unthinkable and went to work for KWU’s arch rival, Bethany College.

Pavlovich enters his fifth year as dean of athletics at Bethany and has steered the Swedes’ athletic programs through some trying times of late that included a probationary period imposed by the Higher Learning Commission. He’s currently overseeing facilities upgrades and implementing new life skills programs aimed at benefitting student-athletes after their college days.

He also served two years at dean of student development and currently is the chairman of the Kansas Conference’s Governing Council.

Pavlovich sat down for a question and answer session with the Journal earlier this week.

Q: You attended Kansas Wesleyan for three years. Was their an adjustment period when you got to Bethany?

A: While I was at Kansas Wesleyan was when I fell in love with small college athletics. I couldn’t kick that out of my system once I left. There’s a lot of things I learned from coach (Tom) Hughes and coach (Jerry) Jones. I loved my time there. But also that was a long time ago in the grand scheme of things. I do catch some grief every once in a while from some people, but it’s all good natured. I like to say that I got it right in the end. I married a Bethany gal and hopefully I’ll spend a lot of time here at Bethany.

Q: Is it a little more difficult when Bethany and Wesleyan play?

A: It means a little bit more because it’s such a traditional rival. But hopefully we’re going to do well against everybody and that includes Kansas Wesleyan. It’s not to the point where you circle one game and that’s the only game you have to win. We want to be good all across the KCAC and it’s getting tougher and tougher. You can’t just focus on one person or particular school.

Q: The Higher Learning Commission recently removed Bethany from probation and reaffirmed its accreditation. How did the probation impact athletics?

A: The first thing is recruiting. When you’re on probation you’re still accredited, everything you’re doing’s valid, but you have to prove you’re viable. That’s what the probation status was for us. It’s such an investment for parents to send a student here … there’s a little bit of a question mark. I think we did a pretty good job making sure we talked honestly and with integrity about our situation, but also talked very honestly and with that same integrity that we felt we would get off and were taking the great steps. You’re not going to see an immediate impact, but there will at least be less question marks on people’s minds about sending their son or daughter to Bethany. This will allow us, as we grow, to do some things in athletics that will increase the student-athlete experience. Those things were kind of put on hold, I would point to the tennis facility project. We were raring to go in the summer of 2015 and then the probation happened and we had to put the brakes on that.

Q: What impact has the college’s free tuition program for Saline and McPherson County students had on athletics?

A: We have 20 new student-athletes coming to Bethany College that are McPherson and Saline County students. And they’re really across a lot of different sports. Last year in our incoming class we only had eight students from McPherson and Saline County. As of today we have 71 students coming from McPherson and Saline County. It’s put us in the conversation with students who might not have wanted to stay locally in terms of going to college in their back yard. It’s going to allow us to grow and have a vibrant campus culture. I’m excited to see where it goes in the next four years.

Q: The KCAC has seen an athletic facilities arms race of sorts in recent years. What’s on the horizon for Bethany?

A: Our board passed a five-year strategic plan in the May, 2017 board meeting. We have some things in there that we’re excited about in athletics. Right off the bat is air conditioning Hahn Gymnasium for our volleyball student-athletes and our basketball student-athletes. We’re transitioning two classrooms into changing rooms for programs that haven’t had locker rooms. We’re doing some short term, intermediate things that will help out our student-athletes. As far as the big picture in that five-year plan, it’s written in to have a new campus community center, have a new football complex and new gymnasium. We haven’t done a feasibility study about it, we don’t know if the donors will be behind it. It’s something that we have to continue to look at because such a large population of our students are athletes.

Q: Longtime men’s basketball coach Clair Oleen retired after last season, but will remain at the college. What will his role be?

A: He’s working in the advancement office and he will be raising money and forming relationships. Certainly he’ll be instrumental in working through the strategic plan. He’ll be raising money not only for the athletic department, but all departments campus wide. He has such a depth of relationships going back 38 years being on the sidelines at Bethany and we’re excited to have him that new role. We’ll miss him in athletics, but we’re so excited he’s still at Bethany.

Q: New men’s basketball coach Dan O’Dowd has spent the past 23 years coaching at the NCAA Division I level. How is he adapting to life at an NAIA school?

A: He has been incredible about trying to learn everything he can. He’s really been in the ear of the different members of the coaching staff about how to recruit, scheduling, about all the minutia of being a head basketball coach at this level as opposed to Division I. He has been more than I could have hoped for in terms of what he’s done for the basketball program and the athletic department. He hasn’t made this job seem small. He’s jumped in with both feet.

Q: It’s been a rough couple of years for the football program. Coach Paul Hubbard faced numerous challenges when he arrived two years ago, but it appears things are on the upswing. What are your expectations?

A: Continued improvement. If you look back at our offensive two-deep (charts) in the Ottawa game last year, 11 of the 22 were freshmen and sophomores. On the defensive it was something like nine of 22 with seven of those being freshmen. We’ve had a very youthful team that last few years and the expectation, like all of our programs, is get better and better. Coach Hubbard runs a program the right way, our foundation is solid now and that’s important to longterm success. Hopefully he can capitalize on that foundation being solid this year.

Q: Avila is the newest member of the KCAC, having joined earlier this year. What are your thoughts on them joining the conference?

A: I’m very happy Avila and the KCAC have hooked up. When the KCAC expanded Avila was very high on the list. They feel like a KCAC school if you go to their campus. They realized that and it was nice we realized it at the same time. (KCAC commissioner) Scott Crawford has done a really good job with the process of adding members. It’s a very thorough process and trying to make sure that they’re the right fit. It was pretty clear, at least for me, from the beginning that Avila was going to be a quality member of the KCAC.

Q: Any chance a 14th KCAC member will be added in the near future?

A: We’ll keep our options open, but we’re not actively pursuing anything at this point. Scheduling is going to be a little bit of a challenge with 13 members. We had a nice, neat, tidy schedule with a lot of our sports. We’re adding a school that’s not far away in terms of travel, but more extended travel than we might be used to. So balancing those two things is going to be a little delicate, but I’m confident we can do that.

Q: What are some of the challenges you face in keeping the athletic department successfully moving forward?

A: Recruiting is harder and harder is the first thing I’d mention. Schools are spending resources, it’s a lot harder to find those diamonds in the rough. KCAC schools all have good coaches who are out trying to find the best talent that going to advance their program. It’s different by sport. How our coaches continue to develop is another challenge. New techniques, different ideas, those things are all important. So how do I, as athletics director, continue to emphasize professional development, both formally and informally, to make sure our coaches continue to be on the leading edge of what they’re coaching and teaching? How do you get student-athletes more than just an athletic experience?

Q: What are some of those things in regards to student-athletes?

A: We have chosen to focus on community service and giving back. This year we will fully launch a student athlete development program within our athletic department that will attempt to live out our mission statement. We call it the 4-D Swede, the four dimensions of being a Swede. Everybody talks about how athletics can teach you so many things — time management, humility, cooperation in working with a team. Some life skills things. We’re going to take a run at formalizing the process. We’re talking to kids about budgeting, about emphasis on insurance, how do they prepare for a career, making sure our student-athletes get involved in career development activities from the beginning. How do we make a model that will allow student-athletes to feel like once they leave Bethany College they got a great student-athlete experience? They got a phenomenal education, but they’re also prepared for some different things that will come their way because of what we formally taught them or formally gave them experience within our athletic department.